In Spaaaace!

In Spaaaace!
My Own Private Galaxy

Pat Miller | 18 Jul 2006 08:03
In Spaaaace! - RSS 2.0

Space, huh?

Space is pretty cool, I guess. Ships, you know. Guns and aliens and cargo smuggling and intergalactic rebellion and all that. Not a bad place for a game to take place. At least space is pretty easy to draw.

But you know, there's an awful lot of it. People kind of forget that, I think. Games like X-Wing and Wing Commander and Galaga all take place in space, of course, but the, uh, size of it all, it just kind of gets lost amid the scrolling screens of enemies and gigantic battleships and Mark Hamill.

I try not to repeat myself too often, but today I'm going to tell you about another trend-setter that made its way onto the Macintosh long before anything like it was seen elsewhere. This one goes out to Escape Velocity, the only game I've ever played that made me begin to realize exactly how darn big space is.

To go back and play Escape Velocity, in any of its incarnations (vanilla EV, EV: Override and EV Nova, respectively), now is like playing interstellar Grand Theft Auto, but of course, simply calling it "Game X in space" doesn't do it justice. I begin my space-faring career with a brand new shuttlecraft - the bottom of the totem pole - a handful of credits, and not a whole lot else. I am my own Han Solo; buying low, selling high, running errands when it pays (and mining asteroids when it doesn't), running away from pirates when I've got cargo to deliver and sneaking by the local authorities when my cargo is less than legitimate. Space is huge in its infinite repetitive grid of black with a few stars scattered here and there in the background, and it's doubly huge when I'm the smallest, most insignificant little blip on a radar screen that I could be. My life is subject to the whims of whatever ill-tempered battleships or unluckily-placed pirates that happen to be around, and if I'm playing on Strict Mode (no reloading saved games), that puts me in my place pretty quickly. I've had a few close calls, of course: There was this one hostile-looking Corvette a few hops away from Sol that had my name on one of its missiles ... but I digress.

The headiness of this sense of infinite space is virtually impossible to describe to the layman. It's that moment where I look at my ever-expanding star map, which started out with maybe two or three star systems and grew to over 200, and I think, wow, this entire world lives and breathes on my computer. Discovering an alien race for the first time, stumbling across a new kind of ship design or watching a large CPU-controlled battle between two political factions; despite so many games taking place in space, not one has managed to replicate the sense of awe and amazement at space's sheer size and complexity. Screw the internet and virtual public space; Escape Velocity gives me more than enough frontier.

This is all how it feels until I can scrape up enough scrilla to put together a ship that's big enough to boss other people around. Sure, I can pick fights with whoever I want; I can start my own pirate fleet and prey on the legitimate business-beings, and I can even carve out my own domain out of the star-map, if I'm big enough. But after a few big victories, my reputation will start to spread. Maybe I'll catch the attention of a few well-connected people who could use my help. Some of them are Good Guys, and some are Bad Guys, but it's very rarely that clear-cut.

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